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7/23/10

Returning Fire

Hello all,

I have been absent from the blogging world for some time now due to a number of factors but now seems like the correct time to jump back in. Needless to say this summer has been one of immense transition for Oilers fans and we look forward to what could be the most exciting season in years for many reasons.

I'd like to start the posting once more by re-visiting an earlier post and applying it to our young (possible) superstars in the making: Mr. Hall, Mr. Eberle and Mr. Svensson (you will not see me try to consistently spell that other name until I'm forced to). It's topic will shape how impactful they can be as offensive forces for our team in the coming years.

Clips from the original post "A Treatise on Shooting"

Shooting is one of the single most misunderstood parts of the game. The problem begins in that newcomers and casual observers seem to think it is the most simple part of the game. Gotta shoot to score right? Taking more shots is always better right? Just fire it at the net right?

WRONG.

These sentiments could not be more wrong. Shooting is one of the most complicated arts to master in the game. I've noticed that hockey moms are often the most guilty of the "SHOOT" disease in hockey rinks, but I don't really blame them for this as it does seem simple. The thing about shooting effectively is that it must be done in the midst of the entire fray of the game. With everything else going on, you must find enough physical room to deploy your selected shot, obtain the space to put the puck through, decipher where to put the puck so that it has the best chance of reaching the net (read: net behind the goalie, not "on net"), how to disguise your intentions, and many other internal calculations within the game if you hope to be an effective shooter. Those who do this well are those able to slow the game down in their own minds and see clearly. Shooters are not panicky. They are calculated. Though the shot often comes off in a fraction of an instant with an utterly violent motion, that motion is controlled and decisive. The best shooters have this procedure so programmed in that the process simply looks like an instinctual and savage movement.


Are these young guys we've acquired excellent shooters? None of them springs to mind instantly as a guy who constantly knocks water bottles off the net, but we do have a general sense of their tendencies.

Hall is seen as a good shooter and a scorer. He can either beat you with moves or by simply putting it by you. I watched his shooting fairly closely and honestly need to see him against pro competition to make a judgement. The way he was beating junior goalies was not particularly impressive when it was a shot-reliant goal. He was however consistent in not missing easy chances. He does miss high a little too much, but this is better than hitting the goalie's chest too much (which he does not). It could be that Hall will make the adjustment to beating NHL goalies easily because he has the hockey-sense for it; but we'll have to watch that. Get worried if he's suddenly hitting chests and doesn't change his shooting strategy.

I don't have that worry about Eberle. He's shown at both the junior and professional level that he doesn't have to rely on the physical aspect of his shooting very much. He's technical and smart about his shooting. He's efficient with his chances and this should translate well into the pro game. So long as he's not forced to rely on shots from afar too much (Gagner often runs into this difficulty), he should be able to beat NHLers. He has some of the Mike Comrie talent in him to vaccum up rebounds and patiently put them into the back of the net rather than WHACK WHACK WHACKING away as many unsuccessful pro scorers do. He just needs to be kept from developing bad habits and the goals should come.

Magnus is more of a mystery to me. I haven't watched enough of his play to make a conclusive judgement on his overall shooting ability, but if he can use his size with a strong forehand, this is an easy way to score in the NHL (or at any level for that matter). There have been concerns in the past about his finishing ability, so we will certainly have to watch that, but it does appear from his recent results that he is improving offensively and likely hasn't seen his ceiling as yet. Magnus could have the widest possible variance in his goal scoring. He could wind up a balanced 2-way guy or a scoring machine depending on how his development goes.

I maintain that Wayne Gretzky was the best shooter ever. His combination of accuracy and (when he needed it) power are unmatched from my eyes. Some older observers might dispute it, but he's the best I've seen because he understood when, how and where to shoot better than anyone. You didn't see Wayne Gretzky firing off stupid shots into defenders all the time, or getting checked because he was busy trying to shoot from a bad position. Also, from what I've seen, when he truly needed to score, he went to his forehand, which is another thing I've observed that great goal scorers will always do.


I'm a little concerned about Hall's tendency to go backhand (and for that matter, all modern players tendency to go backhand when the forehand move is available). Always prefer to go to your strength when you have the chance. It doesn't make sense to do otherwise. Too many junior players score all these backhand goals on weak jr goalies and then show up in the NHL and kindly place it in the goalies pads. Not too worried about Eberle and Svensson. Hall seems to exhibit a lot of the when/where knowledge, and only blasts iffy shots when stuck trying to drag Nazem Khadri all over the ice. He won't have that issue here as he'll likely be playing with Horcoff and Hemsky or Eberle and Svensson. They all appear to have a healthy interest in holding onto the puck.

To bring this discussion back to your favorite team and mine, it has been spouted by so many that the cure to what ails the Edmonton Oilers is simply to take more shots. More shots will magically equal more goals and this team will be fine. There are a number of reasons that this simply isn't true, but more on that later.

The fans that attend live games, many of them anyway, do not seem to grasp the intricacies of shooting. They call for shots on the Powerplay most frequently, missing the whole point of the 5-on-4 situation which is not to get more shots but to get BETTER shots that are of higher percentage chance to score. The point of all that passing it to create a lane to another player collapsing the defensive box and creating a situation where a forward (usually) has an opportunity to shoot at an undefended, possibly screened and hopefully out of position goaltender. Simply taking more shots accomplishes none of this and relinquishes the puck control that the 5-on-4 situation affords you. Your goal is not to blast 100 pucks in the general direction of the net and hope that 4 or 5 go in. If your team somehow manages to score 4 or 5 goals in half your games, you'll be a pretty great team in this league. Doing this requires better chances, not more pucks directed at the net.

Directing a puck towards the net accomplishes absolutely nothing in and of itself. It can in fact be a negative because if you do not score, create an offensive rebound or cause an offensive zone faceoff, you've turned the puck over to the opposition who can then break out on you. Odds are you're also out of position at this stage.


This is where I think the "young players don't help you win" can be remedied. If you can instill in these young guys an enhanced understanding of what they need to do with the puck (which is NOT simply slam it at the net), they will be contributors to puck possession and create opportunities. On the PP, all of these 3 have a chance to score many goals and rely on the situation as well as our skilled veterans to help up get a big special teams lead on the other teams. Please...do not yell at Hall, Eberle or Svensson to shoot. They know what they're doing in the offensive end.

If you gave a team a goal, and that was to direct 50 pucks at the net in a given game, I submit to you that this team would not win hockey games. The easiest shots to take are often the ones least likely to go in. An undefended shot from the blue line, even when you're Sheldon Souray, is of relative ease to take, but has a very low chance of success for many reasons. The shooting percentage that teams have is not simply because they direct pucks at the net, but is because they direct some of the right pucks at the net.

The Edmonton Oilers of 09-10 have many problems in the offensive zone right now. The desire to shoot is not one of them despite the howls of the peanut gallery. When this team has been in position to take effective shots, they have not been shy at all about taking them. Gilbert Brule is a great example of a talented shooter who's made a lot of his chances so far this year. I wish we had 3 of him (ideally one that was 6'3", but those kinds of guys go first overall). What has occurred lately is that this team is not getting itself into the positions required to take effective shots, and not corralling rebounds in high percentage areas where goals are had. There have been many games this year where we've had an obscene number of pucks blocked after they were poorly directed at the net. This needs to stop. Our game in the offensive zone has become much less fluid despite our roster which is structured to play a very fluid offensive style. There are teams that can play the table-top hockey style game, stay in place and fire shots. We are not that kind of team.

This process should be the focus of our efforts as a team. Simply focusing on directing pucks will not lead to wins, only to frustration.


We will again have a team that is oriented towards a flowing game. We'll actually have more weapons up front and should be better at this. Missing Lubomir to get the pucks to Hemsky and crew will hurt immensely, but we'll need to find a way to make it up. Hall, Eberle and Svensson all have a chance to be part in that.

See you again soon, as we tee up the coming Oilers season.

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